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A winner, not a beginner

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Cathy Ardrey focuses on fresh, healthy fare

By Nita Brown

Editor’s note – The Lancaster News recently asked readers on Facebook to share the names of some of the county’s best foodies. One of them is Cathy Ardrey. 

 

Cathy Ardrey’s family thinks she’s a great cook, with good reason. 

From vegetables to wild game and seafood, Ardrey has an arsenal of dishes, many of which she’s developed herself or adapted from recipes found in her cookbook library. 

Like many good cooks, she makes a lot of dishes without a recipe – a little of this and a pinch of that. Scratch-cooking is her stock in trade, and Ardrey avoids ready-made foods. Generally, she prepares meals using fresh vegetables from the family garden or home-canned ingredients. Even her sauces are homemade. 

Most often, the meat or fowl is from the family freezer, bagged by her husband, Bill, and their three sons during hunting season. 

Seafood is also fresh-caught on family fishing trips and frozen for later use. 

Cooking isn’t just an enjoyable hobby with Cathy, although she loves to cook. Being a stay-at-home mom most of the time while her six children were growing up made resourcefulness in the kitchen a necessity. 

Even now, as an empty-nester, she still enjoys researching to make meals more healthful and nutritious, as well as tasty.

Her daughter, Melantha, who nominated her mom, said eating healthy is a way of life for them.

“She has definitely influenced me in eating healthy, but, of course, as a kid I didn’t think about it being healthy, just tasty,” Melantha said.

On-the-job training

Cathy said she wasn’t always a good cook and admits to being a kitchen novice when she married Bill in January 1969. 

“I knew how to make two things,” she said, smiling. “The third night, I got one of those boxes like Hamburger Helper. It was inedible. After that, it was no more mixes for me.”

Cathy set about learning from cookbooks, experimenting and adapting recipes, and got Southern cooking tips from Bill and his family. 

A lack of cooking experience worked to her advantage, as she wasn’t locked into a particular style.

Born in Minnesota, Cathy grew up in Florida and came to Lancaster as a social worker fresh out of Newberry College. She met Bill through a friend. 

A few years after their marriage, Bill started his own business as a forestry consultant. 

That business remains a family affair, with their three sons now working with their dad. 

The whole family enjoys the outdoors, and eating the fruit of their outdoor labors. At home, much of the family’s time was spent in the vegetable garden. They also grew several types of fruit trees.

“We always had a garden and I kind of took for granted having fresh fruit and vegetables all the time, Melantha said. “That was actually one of the first places my parents taught us responsibility. We were [each] in charge of weeding and watering a row of vegetables when we were growing up.”

Bill still enjoys hunting with his sons. The family freezer already contains three deer bagged this season. Two favorite venison recipes use deer tenderloin. One is marinated in red wine and rosemary; the other is sliced, sprinkled with garlic, marinated in mustard and milk and then fried in potato flakes.

A seafood passion

However, the Ardrey family’s outdoors passion is fishing. A number of years ago, a friend introduced them to coastal fishing and shrimping in McClellanville, located on Jeremy Creek and the Intercoastal Waterway, about 45 minutes north of Charleston. 

The Ardreys enjoyed it so much they bought a small creek-side cottage the next year. In 1999, they bought a 19-foot Carolina skiff. 

During the 60-day shrimp-bait season, which starts in October, Bill pilots the boat and Cathy throws the shrimp net. 

Since the cottage is small, the children and their families take turns making the trip to McClellanville for fishing and shrimping weekends. 

“I try to go shrimping and fishing as much as possible when my parents go. Shrimping is a lot of work, but it’s definitely fun. Mama is really good at throwing the net,” Melantha said.

After a weekend of shrimping, Cathy sorts the shrimp by size, cleans them, places them in labeled bags and freezes them, covered with water. Handled this way, they will last a year in the freezer. 

Wasting nothing, Cathy boils the heads to make a shrimp stock, which she uses in she-crab soup. 

“It adds a really good flavor,” she said.

Although called bait shrimp, they come in sizes that are also good for eating. A family tradition is Cathy’s shrimp and grits, which she serves every Christmas morning.

Shrimpers are allowed to fill one 48-quart cooler per day, which may seem like a lot at first, especially after a three- or four-day weekend. But the family uses the frozen shrimp for both cooking and bait, and since they fish so frequently, the freezer is usually ready for the next year’s catch by the time the season begins.

The Ardreys also have an oyster permit from a commercial oyster fishery. The limit is two bushels per person, which is a lot of oysters, Cathy said. But just as with their forestry business, they have adopted best management principals.  

“We are very selective and always leave smaller oysters behind to grow,” Cathy said.

Eating fresh oysters is the family’s reward. They like them steamed (just barely) or Cathy’s oysters on the half-shell recipe. 

Crab is another favorite seafood. It’s tedious and time-consuming to pick the crab meat, but a reward is Cathy’s crab cakes, another “no-recipe” dish. The key to a good crab cake is fresh meat and using just enough of a filler to hold it together, she said.

Cathy said she learned to cook seafood mainly from trying and adapting recipes shared by neighbors and friends in McClellanville. 

Dad’s limerick

A treasured cookbook in Cathy’s collection is her first one, given to her by her father, Howard Burt, when she was in high school. You could say he was prophetic about his daughter’s future cooking skills, from the limerick he composed and wrote in the front of the book:

“If you will learn to cook

As good as you look,

You’ll be a winner

And not just a beginner,

So that’s why I bought you this book.”

As the Ardrey children moved out to start their own lives and families, Cathy gave each a loose leaf notebook containing favorite family recipes. She also passed on the family blessing by including her dad’s limerick or the first page in each notebook. 

It’s a valued possession for them all, Melantha said.

“I use it all the time. If I go home and she makes something I don't have in the book, I ask her to send me the recipe so I can add it,” Melantha said.

Though Bill and Cathy are now officially empty-nesters, their home on the outskirts of the Pleasant Hill community is still filled frequently with family gatherings. 

The dining room table that belonged to Bill’s parents can be extended into the living room to seat their six children, their spouses and grandchildren.  

“The holidays always stand out to me,” Melantha said. 

“She always makes a huge spread and it is always fantastic. She is amazing because she can just throw ingredients together and make a fabulous dish. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to just throw ingredients together, but I’ve definitely become a better cook from watching and learning from her.” 

 

Recipes by Cathy Ardrey

Tomato Soup

Ingredients

2 cups tomato juice

1/4 cup cream

1 3/4 cups milk

2 tablespoons margarine or butter

2 tablespoons onion, chopped 

3 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Dashes of garlic salt, basil, oregano and thyme

 

Directions

– Melt butter over medium heat. Add onions and saute until soft. Stir in flour, sugar, salt, garlic salt and herbs. Add tomato juice, stir and bring to a boil. Add cream and milk, stirring with a whisk to keep smooth. Heat thoroughly, but do not boil.

 

Oysters on the Half-Shell

Ingredients/directions

– Shuck the oyster, leaving it on the half-shell. Put a small dot of butter on each, sprinkle with some crushed Captain’s Wafers, followed by a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and top with a small piece of bacon. Broil in oven for about two minutes or until bacon is cooked.

 

Shrimp Dip

Ingredients

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup chili sauce

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup chopped onion

2 to 3 teaspoons prepared horseradish

1 pound small shrimp, cooked, peeled and coarsely chopped.

 

Directions

– Blend ingredients and serve.

 

Redfish or Largemouth Bass on the Half-Shell

Ingredients

Redfish or largemouth bass fillets, with scales left on

1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

 

Directions

– Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

– Combine 2 teaspoons olive oil with crushed red pepper and salt and pepper. Spread on fish fillets. Bake skin side down on bottom oven rack for 20 minutes and remove. 

– Combine flat-leaf parsley with minced garlic and olive oil. Spread over baked fish fillets and enjoy.    

 

Salsa

Ingredients

2 cups diced/chopped tomatoes

3 green onions, chopped

1/2 to 1 jalapeno pepper, chopped

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 handful fresh, chopped parsley

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon oregano (or cilantro), chopped

 

Directions

– Blend all ingredients and chill.

 

Topping for Baked Fish

Ingredients

1/4 pound crab meat, if available

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

 

Directions

– Combine ingredients and place topping on baked fish and broil until it melts.